Animal Friends of the Valleys continues to help local strays find homes

New Wildomar Animal Friends of the Valleys Executive Director Monica Wylie visits with a group of kittens at the shelter. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Now three years into its third decade, Animal Friends of the Valleys continues to help stray local dogs, cats and other animals find homes, reunite lost pets with their owners, offer spay and neuter services and more.

The animal shelter, established in 1987 as Lake Elsinore Animal Friends, the organization has since expanded to cover the entire southwest Riverside County region, Monica Wylie, the shelter’s new executive director, said.

The shelter’s goal is to help every single stray that comes in either get back to their old home or find a new one, Wylie said.

“We are certainly advocates for the animals in our communities,” she said.

About 20% to 30% of the stray dogs that come into the shelter are eventually reclaimed by their owners, she said. Cats are usually not so lucky – only about 2% of the cats that come in get reclaimed.

A newborn kitten being cared for at the Animal Friends of the Valleys in Wildomar. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“Cats aren’t as much on the radar if they’re lost, because people think maybe they’re independent or coyotes may have gotten them,” Wylie said. “Or if they’re indoor cats and they get out, they usually don’t end up in a shelter right away – they may be hiding for a week or two.”

The shelter does use euthanasia, Wylie said, but they try to keep it to animals with medical or behavioral problems – although something pet owners can do to help stop animals from being euthanized is to make sure their pets are spayed and neutered.

“Spay and neuter is critical to help us with that,” she said.

As of October, the shelter was facing a lot of stray cats and kittens, as cats tend to breed during warmer periods.

“Right now with this warm weather we are seeing a lot of kittens,” Wylie said.

Typically, the shelter sees the most stray dogs come in around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day.

“The fireworks frighten them and they just lose their minds and are running all over the place, so those would be the busiest times of year for dogs,” she said.

Animal Friends of the Valleys kennel tech Christopher Smith spends time with a dog available for adoption during outdoor time at the Wildomar shelter. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

It’s not just cats and dogs that Animal Friends of the Valleys handles. Rabbits, which are statistically the third-most-popular pet in the United States, also come into the shelter, along with other less-likely animals like guinea pigs, chickens, goats and tortoises.

“We actually have desert tortoises that come in here as strays,” Wylie said. “That makes me laugh, but…”

While Animal Friends of the Valleys needs families to adopt pets, they also need families who are willing to provide foster care, particularly for kittens but also for puppies and adult dogs and cats.

Wylie joined Animal Friends of the Valleys in September after an extensive nationwide search. She comes to the shelter with more than 15 years’ experience at The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County in Tacoma, Washington. And to her, it’s not just a job, it’s a passion – in fact, she came back to animal shelter work after working as a Realtor for two years.

“I missed the mission, I missed being able to make this difference,” she said. “If I could help one more today than I did yesterday, then I’m winning and they’re winning, and for the folks that are here volunteering, it’s all about the mission, and if we can get these guys out of here with homes then it’s so worth it.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at